What I think progressives believe about business

When I was younger, I thought of US government spending as an absolute waste – no different from pouring money into a giant hole in the ground and burning it.

But I was wrong – most of the money the US government spends is not the equivalent of burning it – most of it goes to pay for salaries, to buy equipment and services. Some of that money is much more well spent than the rest, and there’s definitely an incredible amount of room for improvement, but even so, I was still wrong in my thoughts that government spending is utterly without benefit.

I think many, perhaps most progressives make the same categorical mistake about business. They seem to think that businesses are automatically profitable, and immensely so. That anyone can start a business and it will immediately make them very, very rich. They fall into the cliche’d belief that anything they don’t understand must be easy. Any counterexample – businesses that don’t make a lot of money – they can (and do) explain away as either lying about their actual profitability, or utterly incompetent.

Progressives look at stories like this one – CEOs make 300 times the average wage of their employees – and they go ballistic. They assume that it’s true across the board – everyone, every business in the world must have this vast gulf in wealth between the owners and the employees.

Armed with those assumptions, the rest of the progressive agenda is easy to follow:

“Increase the minimum wage” – why not? The managers are clearly making 300x the employees wages, it’s no big deal to increase the pay at the bottom. What, the management might only make 200x the average wage instead? Cry me a river.

“Add new regulations” – why not? Those fatcats can afford to hire people to manage the paperwork for them. They might have to spend 1% more every year and reduce their giant annual bonuses by 1%. Boo hoo, cry me a river.

“Increase healthcare services” – again, why not. Employees will be better off. So the manager only gets to buy three Ferraris this year, instead of four. Poor guy…

“Change salaried employees to hourly rates” – those employers were just using salaries so they could exploit those poor workers. And anyways, they can just raise prices – no matter how much your product/service costs, people will still pay for it, and at the same quantity.

And so on. And this is what makes progressives so livid when conservatives push back on these things – because it just seems so petty for these businessmen (and their cronies) to be complaining about thousands of dollars of additional expense to make their employees lives better, when these businessmen are (in the progressive mind) bringing home millions of dollars a year in profits. Especially when you factor in all the infrastructure that has been built over the years to facilitate those fatcat businessmen.

And if you think about it – if those things were true – if every competent businessman was immediately immensely successful and massively profitable – most of us would find arguing about a few pennies of additional cost to be disgustingly Scrooge-like. It would be evidence of the businessman’s bad faith, and then that would further justify any sort of additional restrictions you might wish to impose.

So remember this when you’re arguing with progressives about business. There’s an assumption of incredible wealth, and an associated assumption that the only way that business owners aren’t incredibly wealthy is when they’re completely incompetent. If you are in business, you are either evil, or stupid.

You need to be able to get past both of those objections before you can rationally engage on business-related policy discussions.

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